Blotters and stories

I was able to catch a portion of ABS-CBN’s news and current affairs special over the weekend. And this time, the show was titled Blotter. The show was supposed to be a feature on the different stories found by journalists from police blotters. Veteran journalist Julius Babao was hosting the episode and the first segment was about a mother and daughter who were murdered then hidden in a freezer by the suspect. I would have wanted to stay and watch the whole episode but it was a Saturday and I had to buy some things from the mall.

The show though reminded me of times back then when I myself depended on police blotters. I tell you, police blotters can be very helpful both for cub reporters and veteran journos who are out to get some stories from the crime beat or the graveyeard shift. In my case, I spent over a couple of years covering crime stories in Cagayan de Oro and Cebu. And almost on every slow work night, I browse through the blotters of different police stations just to see if I could find leads on possible stories. Among those which I cannot forget is a story my team and I found in a blotter, which we never though would be aired in the national news programs.

I was just a few months into the graveyeard shift back then and it was a slow evening. But while going through the blotter of that police precinct in Cagayan de Oro, we found out that the Ronald McDonald statue in a McDonald’s branch near a mall was stolen by unknown suspects. Me and my cameraman, including my driver, actually thought it was hilarious at the same time foolish that someone would steal the statue. I mean, come on! What for, right?

We asked the police for more details but they could only give us what was in the blotter. And so we decided to visit the branch. But as soon as we arrived at the branch, the manager said she wouldn’t want to comment on the incident. And so we decided to videos of the scene and go back to the precinct to get a soundbite from the police desk officer and the investigator. Having the video (or sitners as how TV journos here call it) and the sound bites (or SOTs as how they are called in the newsroom), we filed story before the end of our shift in the morning, oblivious that our newschief would later forward the story to Manila. It was aired in the national news program that evening.

The story circulated like wildfire, eventually resulting to several versions and some exaggeration. The story got so hyped that a friend of mine (who apparently knew the perpetrators), later told me that the guys behind the theivery planned to return the statue afterwards since it was just meant to be a joke. But when the story got aired in the national news programs and everyone started talking about it, they got so afraid that they just left the statue in a vacant lot a couple of weeks later. The perpetrators of the “kidnapping” of Ronald McDonald were never caught and they remain unknown. That Ronald McDonald statue by the way was valued at at least P60,000 or something like $ 1,300.

Another incident which I can never forget is one which I did not actually file as a story but really left me laughing after I read it in the blotter. It was a case involving cows and calves which were left unattended in a semi-rural neighborhood in Cagayan de Oro; and how the livestock ate the plants of a neighbor. While it seemed like a simple case of unattended animals if you hear it from the persons involved, how it was written in the blotter was very different. The entry read something like: “Mr. (flower owner) came before this precinct to complain that Mr. (cow owner)’s cows, both girls and boys, trespassed his property and ate his flowers, including the children.” If you base your story on the blotter entry, with its mangled English formed out of Cebuano sentence construction, the case reported would not be one of simple trespasing and destruction to property, rather it would be homicide, or worse, murder!

Yes, blotter entries in our police precincts do contain errors and most of them are derived from the limited writing skills of our policemen, specially since blotter entries are more often than not, written in English. Being that senior policemen (those recruited during the Marcos dictatorship years)  were enlisted back then merely on account of their willingness to fight lawless elements without regard for their educational attainment, their facility of the English language is very much limited.

To be fair though there are instances where it is not the fault of the policemen. Like in cases involving battered (live-in) wives. According to our laws, these incidents cannot be treated as domestic disputes since the parties are not legally married. And so the policemen are forced to reduce the crime reported as cases of physical injuries. Some label the case as that of a “battered woman,” which actually also results to a case of lesser offense in the eyes of the law once the case reaches court. Of course, lesser offense = lesser penalty.     

But these stories culled from the blotters are more of the exceptions than the rule. More often than not, blotter entries contain stories which involve the injury of a person or groups of persons such as those involved in traffic incidents. They also contain details on grisly events such as stabbings, shooting incidents, hackings, summary executions and suicides. And while many may consider stories of killings and accidents as very difficult to bear, I would say that more heart-wrenching are stories involving children, abused wives, and rape victims. And I must say, the heart still feels heavy even if you are only able to read the details of these stories of violence against women and children, even if it would be just from the blotters.

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